Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Sri Lanka says combat gives way to rescue

Sri Lanka on Monday said combat with heavy weapons was over in a last pocket of territory held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and it was shifting its focus to rescuing civilians trapped there.

The announcement came a day after the government dismissed an attempt to declare a truce by the rebels, now cornered in less than 10 square kilometres of coastline by a military juggernaut aiming to end a war that started in 1983.

”Combat operations have reached their conclusion,” said a statement from President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office.

”Our security forces have been instructed to end the use of heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties.”

Analysts said it appeared designed to mollify international diplomatic pressure to call a ceasefire, which Sri Lanka has ruled out given the LTTE’s history of using them to rearm and their rejection of two government truce offers so far this year. ”Our security forces will confine their attempts to rescuing civilians who are held hostage and give foremost priority to saving civilians,” the statement from Rajapaksa’s office said.

For weeks, the military has said it was only using small arms in order to protect civilians in what it has dubbed the largest hostage rescue operation in the world.

”I don’t see any substantial change. This would probably be in deference in to international opinion,” said Colonel R Hariharan, who was head of military intelligence for the Indian army during its 1987-1990 peacekeeping mission in Sri Lanka.

”What is there to stop anyway? That stage is gone. I don’t think anybody will take it very seriously,” he said.

UN visits refugees
Last-minute diplomatic efforts have borne little fruit with the LTTE refusing to release tens of thousands of non-combatants it is holding inside the war zone, and the government saying the Tigers must surrender or be destroyed.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Sweden were due to fly in on Wednesday, Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement late on Sunday.

The military has for weeks denied accusations from the LTTE, United Nations and others that it was shelling the area, which until last week had been an army-declared no-fire zone where tens of thousands of civilians were trapped.

The pro-rebel web site on Monday reported that Sri Lankan troops had been attacking the combat zone.

”Sri Lanka Army began firing from all points along the north, west and south of safe-zone in the early hours of Monday,” TamilNet said, without naming its sources.

Military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said operations were moving forward: ”There may be fighting but only with small arms, we are not using heavy weapons.”

The LTTE denies numerous witness reports that it has been keeping civilians in the combat zone by force. More than 113 000 have fled since troops blew up an earth barricade a week ago.

The UN’s top aid official, John Holmes, flew into northern Sri Lanka on Monday to assess the state of the nearly 200 000 people who have fled Sri Lanka’s war this year.

The UN and other aid groups have warned that the sudden exodus is threatening to overwhelm the existing facilities to care for those displaced, particularly the wounded. — Reuters

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Hawkish Reserve Bank sees South Africa edge towards a rates...

Analysts say the Reserve Bank could start tightening monetary policy as early as next month

Coko vs S ruling: The case against a subjective test...

Acting judge Tembeka Ngcukaitobi’s acquittal of a rape suspect has raised controversy, but legal experts say the fault lay with legislators and not the court

More top stories

Almost 7 000 children receive Pfizer shot on first day...

More than 39 000 young people had registered on the government’s database by 4pm on Wednesday

Police murder trial: 189 metal pellets killed Nathaniel ‘Lokkies’ Julies

At least 65% of the pellets in the cartridge hit the 16-year-old when he was gunned down in Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, allegedly by in-training constable, Caylene Whiteboy

Hawkish Reserve Bank sees South Africa edge towards a rates...

Analysts say the Reserve Bank could start tightening monetary policy as early as next month

Lucas Radebe: ‘My football career began behind my parents’ back’

Soccer legend Lucas ‘Rhoo’ Radebe is a busy man, but he made time in his hectic schedule to speak to Ntombizodwa Makhoba about his fondest childhood memories, how his soccer career began, and, as a father of eight, his legacy

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…